Get Nerdy with Highball Cocktails

Whisky Highball

What is a Highball? 

To another generation, the word ‘highball’ and the cocktail we now recognise by that name were both very different things. 

Firstly the word ‘highball’ meant a tall glass, or a long and simple recipe such as a G&T, that was served in a highball glass. 

While the combination of Whisk(e)y and soda water that we now know as a Highball, was indeed just that, a Whisk(e)y & Soda. 

However, as is the way with simple ideas, if you apply the utmost care and attention, you can create something far beyond the sum of its parts. Even to something as simple as combining Whisk(e)y and soda water in a tall glass. That is the modern story of the Highball, and how Japan changed it forever. 

The Whisky Highball

The Whisky Highball is a simple and delicious cocktail made with Whisk(e)y, sparkling water / seltzer and ice. Over the past decade or so, the Whisky Highball has soared in popularity. With an appreciation for its simplicity, flavour and construction. However, simple does not mean boring. 

A popular and refreshing cocktail in Japan for years, with some brilliant canned and even draft versions produced by large companies such as Suntory. The Whisky Highball is continuing to grow in popularity across the rest of the world too. 

As the formula of the Whisky Highball spreads across the world, it also means that it’s being made with all sorts of Whisk(e)y. From  Blended Scotch to American Whisky, Canadian Rye to Irish, and everything in between, so long as it’s good!

Originally the term ‘Highball’ appeared in the 1890’s in a play called ‘My Friend from India’. Though like many classic cocktail recipes, the origins of the drink itself vary greatly. 

In 1895 Chris Lawlor wrote in ‘The Mixicologist’ a recipe called ‘High Ball’. Instructing to “put in a thin ale glass one lump of ice; fill with syphon seltzer to within an inch of the top, then float one half jigger Brandy or Whiskey”. 

One of our favourite stories is told by the great Gaz Regan in his book, ‘The Joy of Mixology’. He states that it’s an old term for the “high” ball that would rise based on the train’s water levels and show that a steam train had enough water for its journey. The conductor would then give two short blasts and one long. Or in other words, two shots of spirit and a long pour of soda.

Whisky highball
What is a highball?

Whisky Highball Formula

The Whisky Highball is a simple formula, with a ratio of its two ingredients of 2:3. Two parts whisky to three parts soda water.

Ratios, or as we say ‘parts’, are an elegantly simple way of describing a cocktail recipe because it can fit any size glass you want. All you need to do is keep the ratio of ingredients the same. 

This is particularly important for mixing at home where you don’t necessarily have one set glass you use, or you may not even have a jigger / measure to hand. So, you can use a cup, shot glass or any other appropriate measuring device. 

Whatever you use, just keep the proportions of the ingredients the same and your drink will always turn out right. You don’t want to over dilute your cocktail with too much water, but on the other hand, if you’re using a whisky that’s over 45% ABV / 90 proof, you may want to add a splash more water to unlock all the flavours of the whisky and perfectly balance your drink.

So, start with this formula –  


60ml : 90ml2 oz : 3 oz

then subtly adjust from here as you see fit, depending on the whisky you’re using.

What Whiskey should I use in a highball?

Always use great products and remember, you get out what you put in. This is never more true than in a drink that’s as simple as the Whisky Highball. Thankfully, we have a few suggestions you might like to use on Candra.

As mentioned, Japan has a love of Highballs unlike any other country, so using a great Japanese whisky is always a great idea. However, it’s your drink, there’s no need to say no to your favourite Irish, Scotch or American whiskey in your Highball.

Sparkling Water 

The Whisky Highball is a magical cocktail that’s both full of flavour while being light and fizzy. All created with just the two ingredients: Whisk(e)y and sparkling water / seltzer.

Why are fizzy drinks so tasty?!

They tingle on the tongue, which is delightful, and the carbon dioxide that creates those bubbles also forms carbonic acid. This gives carbonated beverages a slight acidic and refreshing bite. 

The energetic bubbles also elevate and intensify the aromatics of your drink by lifting flavour molecules to your nose through the roof of your mouth and directly into your nose too. 

Use ice-cold cold soda water, not room temperature. This is for a number of reasons, and it’s worth trying the difference to see for yourself. The most obvious reasons are that the drink should be icy cold and crisp on the palate from the very first sip. If you use room temperature soda, you will encourage the ice to melt, upsetting the balance of the ratio of your ingredients. 

If you’re making your own soda, then using icy cold water is vital for the amount of carbon dioxide you can force into the water. Cold liquids will absorb more CO2 than warm liquids, allowing you to make a fizzier water. This is ideal for keeping the bubbles in your Whisky Highball once it’s mixed with the Whisk(e)y in your glass.

Get creative

You can keep it classic with just ice-cold soda water, or you can subtly introduce other flavours to your Whisky Highball too. 

One way to do this is to add a citrus twist to your drink. The introduction of essential oils from the skin of a piece of citrus fruit does nothing to change the ratio of your ingredients, but will add powerful flavours and aromas to your drink. 

Secondly, the world today is full of flavoursome and interesting sparkling waters that use all sorts of funky fruits and flavours. The great thing with these products is both consistency and never being out of season. There are a number of quality brands available globally, and there are unique flavours from different parts of the world available too. 

If you want to create something yourself, try making a cold brew tea, then carbonating it. This will add unique flavours to your Highball, again without upsetting the balance of your drink. 

Ice for Highballs

Highballs have no place to hide poor quality ingredients. Every element needs to be at its best. Ice, as always, is no exception for the importance of quality. 

When it comes to adding ice to your Whisky Highball, we recommend doing so at the end. You need to make your drink with care to avoid agitating the ingredients and making your cocktail go flat. Therefore, to your glass first add the Whisk(e)y, sparkling water, then finally fill the glass with ice. Adding the ingredients before the ice will allow the two ingredients to mix, without having to ram a spoon or stirrer into the glass to mix the ingredients together with the ice, which would further release CO2.

As mentioned, dilution unlocks the flavours in the Whisky. With other cocktails this is done by stirring or shaking with ice to add water through ice-melt. With the Whisky Highball, the dilution comes from adding sparkling water. 

This means we want to limit the amount of ice-melt in your Whisky Highball. Use ice straight from the freezer that is very cold and dry. Make sure to fill your glass with ice, cracked ice is great or a block that fills the glass is works well too. There are various options for buying blocks of ice, they even have them in various supermarkets. You also can make large pieces of ice yourself using silicone molds. Tru Cubes is a good one for making clear pieces of ice at home.

To further slow the rate of melt, use chilled Whisky straight from the fridge or freezer. If you pour your Whisky straight from the freezer you can drop the overall temperature of your drink by adding an ingredient that, unlike your sparkling water, can be well below freezing temperature. Water can only drop to ~ 0c / 32f as below that it will freeze. Whereas a bottle of Whisky stored in the freezer will still be liquid and enable the overall drink to drop to somewhere in the region of ~ 8 c / 17 f, with a very slow rate of ice-melt that will not even start until the drink gets above freezing. 

We hope this ‘Get Nerdy’ article has helped you understand ‘What is a Highball?’. As well as what Whisk(e)y, ratio, carbonated water and ice you should use, to make the best Highball every time!

As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
@Candra_Drinks  #MakeBetterDrinks  #CandraDrinks

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